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Hydrocephalus – causes, side effects and treatments at

Friday, April 20, 2018 by

Hydrocephalus, sometimes known as water in the brain, is a condition wherein cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the clear fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, is unable to drain from the brain. As CSF continues to accumulate, it can widen the spaces in the brain called ventricles and eventually place pressure on surrounding brain tissues. The build-up tends to occur when an obstruction prevents CSF from draining properly. Other times, hydrocephalus is the result of excessive CSF production.

There are several types of hydrocephalus, with the main ones being:

  • Congenital hydrocephalus: This is when a baby is born with hydrocephalus. Several problems can lead to a baby having this condition from birth, such as birth defects (e.g. spina bifida, an abnormal development of the spinal cord) or an infection caught by the mother during pregnancy (e.g. mumps or rubella).
  • Acquired hydrocephalus: People who have acquired hydrocephalus develop it after birth or during the course of their lifetime. Traumatic head injuries can cause acquired hydrocephalus, as can brain infections or tumors.
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus: Only people who are 50 or older are affected by normal pressure hydrocephalus. It can occur after surgery, stroke, infection, or hemorrhage; though in some cases, the exact cause was unknown.

Known side effects and risk factors of hydrocephalus

There are a number of factors that greatly increases a person’s risk of hydrocephalus, and these include:

  • Premature birth: Premature babies are more susceptible to intraventricular hemorrhage, a condition marked by bleeding within the brain’s ventricles.
  • Problems in the womb: Uterine infections during pregnancy makes fetuses more prone to hydrocephalus.
  • Head injuries: Traumatic head injuries can cause the brain to bleed, and may eventually lead to the affected person developing this condition.

The symptoms of hydrocephalus usually vary depending on the type. For instance, people with congenital hydrocephalus are characterized by enlarged heads, brought on by their skulls expanding as infants in order to accommodate the build-up of CSF. This, in turn, can be followed by the fontanel or soft spot on top of the head tensing and bulging upwards, and the scalp appearing thin and shiny. In addition to these symptoms, congenital hydrocephalus patients also tend to exhibit:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Developmental delays
  • Downward deviation of the eyes
  • Irritability and/or drowsiness
  • Poor feeding habits
  • Seizures
  • Stiff arm and leg muscles that are prone to contractions
  • Vomiting

On the other hand, those with acquired hydrocephalus display different symptoms due to their skulls not being able to accommodate the CSF buildup:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Confusion and/or disorientation
  • Headaches
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Personality changes
  • Sleepiness and lethargy
  • Urinary and/or bowel incontinence
  • Walking difficulties

Finally, older adults with normal pressure hydrocephalus will show the symptoms at a more gradual pace. The earliest sign of this condition is falling without losing consciousness. Other signs include:

  • Changes in gait, namely feeling frozen in place at the start of movement and shuffling rather than walking
  • Headaches
  • Mental function impairment, such as delayed reactions
  • Urinary and/or bladder incontinence

Body systems harmed by hydrocephalus

The brain is most at risk from hydrocephalus, though the severity of the damage will depend on numerous factors. Babies with congenital hydrocephalus can suffer from permanent brain damage, which can cause them to endure several life-long complications like:

  • Autism
  • Epilepsy
  • Impaired speech
  • Learning disabilities
  • Limited attention span
  • Memory problems
  • Speech problems
  • Vision problems

Food items or nutrients that may prevent hydrocephalus

There are no foods or nutrients that can prevent hydrocephalus. However, sticking to a healthy diet during pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of congenital hydrocephalus. This type of diet would usually include a variety of foods like lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. In addition, certain nutrients are necessary for baby’s development while still in the womb. According to, these nutrients are:

  • Calcium: This is found in dairy products such as milk and cheese. Opt for the lower-fat versions of these foods as they contain just as much calcium with only a fraction of the fat.
  • Folic acid: To get more folic acid, make it a point to eat green vegetables, fortified cereals, and brown rice as often as possible.
  • Iron: Fortified cereals, green vegetables, red meat, and pulses are excellent sources of iron.

Treatments, management plans for hydrocephalus

The primary goal in treating both congenital and acquired hydrocephalus is to relieve pressure from the brain. There are two ways to go about this:

  • Shunt surgery: This involves implanting a thin tube known as a shunt into the brain.and the chest or abdominal cavity. The system works by draining CSF from the brain and transferring it to another part of the body where it will be absorbed into the bloodstream. Unfortunately, the shunt is a delicate piece of equipment that can malfunction because of infection or blockage. If either occurs, the patient can suffer from headaches and general malaise.
  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV): An alternative to shunt surgery, ETV will call for making a hole at the bottom of the ventricle to allow excess CSF to flow towards the surface of the brain for easier absorption. Undergoing EVT lessens the risk of infection, but there is still a chance of the hole closing or of there being minor bleeding in the brain.

Those who have normal pressure hydrocephalus have the option of undergoing a lumbar puncture. This procedure will involve removing some of the CSF from the base of the spine.

It’s possible to reduce the risk of normal pressure hydrocephalus and acquired hydrocephalus by preventing head injuries. Using safety equipment, particularly those that protect the head, are essential when carrying out physical activities such as bike riding or contact sports. Older adults should make their homes safer by investing in grab bars and non-slip mats for their bathrooms, as well as handrails for their stairways. Safety gates and window guards are musts for homes with children.

Where to learn more


Hydrocephalus is a condition wherein CSF builds up inside of the brain and places pressure on it, potentially leading to brain damage. This disorder can be congenital or acquired, and can occur to anyone at any stage of their life. The symptoms of hydrocephalus vary with the type, but the most telling sign of the congenital form of this condition is a head that steadily grows in size. Hydrocephalus can be fatal without treatment.

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